Debra Kang Dean and Greg Pape

Greg Pape

PARALLEL PARKING

 

 

i. beads

 

All through that summer she lingered, dreaming of rain,

tracing the rim of a chilled glass beaded with rain.

 

The wind picked up, lifting and crumpling news-

papers, skirts, and dead leaves annealed by the rain.

 

The gray sky thickened as Cain walked away;

blood darkened the soil in the field, like rain.

 

You called on the waiter to bring wine for the house.

Mercifully blurry, the world seen through rain.

 

“No more,” said Li Po, longing for home. And

“No. More,” as under a waxing moon cool rain fell.

 

 

ii.   under a waxing moon

 

Under a waxing moon cool rain fell for hours.

an owl dozed, ducks preened, the heron hunched low for hours.

 

Nothing could account for the way she moved.

He stared at the window streaked with rain remembering for hours.

 

The map torn, the route uncertain, tire flat,

bottle empty, they laughed, it seemed, for hours.

 

I don’t care for flags, he said, or limousines, funeral homes,

headstones—sick of the news, he didn’t care for hours.

 

A monk sat still as moonlight on a frozen lake

emptying his mind, counting his breaths for hours.

 

 

iii. over

 

Counting his breaths for hours, until the last one

seized his wracked body, the very last one.

 

After the sun set, with each desolate house they passed

she thought, What if this light were the last one?

 

“Red rover, red rover,” they chanted over and over.

He sized up the weak link, then charged, the last one.

 

In Haifa one more explosion, one more

in Kirkuk. Hard to believe it will be the last one.

 

Last night, Ramon, the old dream of drowning.

On my lips the taste of salt when I woke, released at last.

 

 

            iv. glass bird

 

When I woke released from a dream a bird

a robin threw itself at a reflected image of a bird

 

in the east window the sun rose

and the dream faded into a bird

 

a confused bird defending its territory

from itself an image in the glass of a bird

 

a red-breasted bird moving to meet the challenge

of the intruder the glass bird a bird

 

only in a bird’s mind until I closed my eyes

and drifted back to sleep and dreamed myself a bird

 

 

v. touching down

 

Again, drifting out of the dream of birds, she opened

the window. In drifted the sound of birds. “She opened,”

 

the curt verdict the old man passed on unstuck doors

and intractable jar lids, gutted deer. She opened.

 

It felt like the plane lurched then fell vertically. Once

touched down, we hurried through the door she opened.

 

“Just like that,” he said, pulling his coat down from

over his head, “the clear sky clouded, let pour—she opened.”

 

Arm’s length or up close, words strung on the page

like birds on a wire. She opened then closed another book.

 

 

            vi. days

 

She opened then closed another book of days.

Time for a fresh start, time to step out into lush green days.

 

One day it rains, one day it burns.

One day it burns and rains. That’s the way with days.

 

Keats said, “The poetry of nature is never dead.”

Crickets, grasshoppers, winds and waters give voice to the days.

 

Master Unmon when asked, “what is your practice?”

answered, “toilet paper,” leaving nothing out in the continuum of days.

 

Walking carefully across the swinging bridge

above the Cane River I feel a rush of days coming back.

 

 

vii. take-offs

 

“The rush, a river of days, days come back,”

said the aging actor making his comeback.

 

On take-offs, through tunnels, on rollercoaster rides

you held then felt the gush of breath—All praise, I’m back!

 

Why grieve what never was? Still the heart persists,

in its crazy tug of war, unfazed: Come back, come back.

 

“That’s why they’re called bumpers,” I keep insisting,

ready to parallel park. But he steps out, waves me back.

 

Chasing a leaf, chasing his tail, Old Spot unleashed

runs riot. “Come back,” his master calls, breathless.

 

 

viii. dog

 

Come back, his master calls, breathless, to the dog.

The wind blows his voice away, and away goes the dog.

 

I have tried in dreams to find you,

conjured your touch, your scent, wandering like a lost dog.

 

They carried away what they could as the waters rose.

No room in the truck for the dog.

 

Bogalusa to Baghdad, Juarez to Jerusalem,

who feeds the nameless dog?

 

God is great god is small

open the envelope pet the dog.

 

 

ix. journeys

 

Open the envelope, make a parapet of the dog-eared journals

your mother kept. You’ll be well met in her dog-eared journals.

 

They came and went, lovely and unloved, all those

lovers and books—all but the dog-eared journals.

 

Before they’d chosen the south fork beyond Traveler’s Rest, Lewis

and Clark were sometimes lost deep in their dog-eared journals.

 

What do you have to show for your life?

Doubts and regrets in the dog-eared journals.

 

Useless, useless! Try measuring the singular miles

Thoreau’s nib traced in the dog-eared journals he kept.

 

 

x. stars

 

Traced in her dog-eared journals: maps of stars,

possible routes to peace, plot lines, quotes marked with stars.

 

The young troops stand at attention. The General turns

sharply to his right, sun sparking off his row of stars.

 

“Aldo, I’ve been trying to think like a mountain,” he says

as he walks a switch-back trail toward a notch filled with stars.

 

All summer he worked at a table beneath an apple tree.

Chickadee and honey bee became his lucky stars.

 

What flows, inside and out, wells up, rises and falls

in waves, stills in puddles littered with stars?

 

 

xi. tempest

 

A blue pool, glittery with stars on the deep end.

Afloat, she fans her arms, drawn to the deep end.

 

In the dream of leaving, it’s hard to surmise whether

you’ll fly or fall wherever you are in the sky’s deep end.

 

The Hail Mary pass. His burning calves. What’s not

to love in his desperate race toward the field’s deep end?

 

When the stub-tailed cat tight-roped the banister, gazing up

breath held, we stopped, mouths ajar, at the stair’s deep end.

 

Prospero renounced his wand and books in The Tempest.

For the living, the sea, the implacable sea. Raw, at play’s end.

 

 

Notes:

 

Sections from this collaborative ghazal appeared in the following publications:

 

“Beads” in High Horse, Fleur-de-lis Press, 2005. (Dean)

“Dog” in Animal Time, Accents Publishing, 2011. (Pape)

“Under a Waxing Moon,” Four Swans, Lynx House Press, 2013. (Pape)

 

 

Debra Kang Dean is the author of News of Home and Precipitates, both from BOA Editions; two prize-winning chapbooks, Back to Back and Fugitive Blues; and Morning’s Spell, a chapbook of renku written with Russ Kesler. Her poems have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. Totem:America, a full-length collection, is forthcoming from Tiger Bark Press in 2018. She teaches in Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program.

 

Greg Pape is the author of ten books, including Four Swans, Border Crossings, Black Branches, Storm Pattern, Sunflower Facing the Sun (winner of the Edwin Ford Piper Prize, now called the Iowa Prize), and American Flamingo (winner of a Crab Orchard Open Competition Award). His poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Iowa Review, The New Yorker, Northwest Review, and Poetry, among others. He served as Poet Laureate of Montana from 2007 to 2009. He teaches in Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing Program.

 


 

Work on “Parallel Parking” began about thirteen years ago when I proposed to Greg that we collaborate on a poem. I had written a sequence of ghazals alone—it appears as the fourth section of my second book Precipitates—and wanted to extend the idea into collaboration. For the sections, we agreed to work in ghazals of five couplets each composed by a single author, and either altering the last line or using only a part of it—a variant on a crown of sonnets—to make possible a new radif in subsequent sections. Without talking too much about the work as the sequence progressed, we began using ideas from renku, a collaborative Japanese form, to expand the range of subject matter and engage in a kind of call and response.

 

We did not have in mind a particular overall length, but when I wrote what now stands as the final section, the appearance of Prospero in its final couplet seemed to be a kind of signature couplet—so that’s a departure from the crown-of-sonnets linkage in favor of the proper ending for ghazals. Up to that point, we had simply been sending our ghazals to each other via snail mail at first and perhaps via e-mail later—I can’t remember—without any kind of schedule.

 

I’ve laid out a framework for the collaboration above, but rather than adhering to it strictly, the idea was to establish a common point of reference and then allowing each of us the freedom to decide how to work with the rules of the ghazal form itself as well as with the larger structure and to respond to the ghazal that had been sent. I should mention here that Greg was my teacher, and as my teacher, he had a profound influence on my understanding of prosody and of form in general.